Adapting Translation and Interpretation Apps for Online Learning

Miggy Bondoc
July 12, 2020

In this fast-moving global pandemic, up-to-date information is needed to know how to protect and inform yourself and your family. Some of that knowledge is communicated in foreign languages, but language tools can break down the linguistic barriers. We’ll look at innovative services for translating and interpreting media on the fly. We’ll consider cool features like camera translation, two-way voice interpretation, simultaneous multilingual translation in apps, picking the best to help you deal in real-time with the crisis.

Locked down with Idle Hands

Estimates are that 3 billion people have been put in some form of lockdown, with restricted movement. Beyond the sickness and loss of life looming as threats around us, there also has been a dramatic loss of personal and communal liberty. What we have gained, however, is time: time to be with ourselves and with our families, for sure. But also, perhaps unexpectedly, there are new opportunities to reach beyond our immediate surroundings to learn things we never had time for and meet people in distant places likewise seeking connection. Let’s explore those new possibilities.

Online Learning Services to Develop Your Mind in Lockdown

The coronavirus crisis has been a boon for distance learning. Educators are adapting classroom coursework to be taught online, revolutionizing learning norms with innovative initiatives. Enrollment in programs for remote education has been booming as people find themselves at home with time on their hands. For sure, many of these programs are emergency replacements for real-world education in schools and colleges suddenly curtailed and forced to rely on remote transmission of lectures and curricula. Some schoolwork has become homework. Luckily, remote educational frameworks can fill some of the gaps.

But the circumstances have also brought a flowering of informal education. Across the world, citizens forced to stay home, many liberated from work routines, are seeking to learn new vocational skills or acquiring knowledge of an avocation. Learning a new language or refreshing linguistic knowledge from your school years? Now’s the time. Hungering to cook new dishes in a masterclass from a Michelin chef? Sharpen your knives. Gordon Ramsey is waiting to bite your head off. Does your body turn to Jello from watching Netflix and devouring Pringles? Practice yoga or learn how to keep fit using your furniture as gym equipment!

Crossing Language Borders as You Learn and Interact with New Friends

In some online programs, it’s just you, the content and prerecorded instruction from the teacher. Nothing wrong with that. Millions of YouTube videos await, on every subject under the sun. Especially in these lockdown days and nights, deprived of meeting other human beings, it’s more fun, and therapeutic, to seek out online courses and webinars that let you meet strangers and engage with them.

You can make new friends bound by mutual interests and a shared pursuit of new knowledge or improved skills. But with so much in common, why be limited by the fact that you speak different languages? Cross those linguistic borders from the comfort of your home. Luckily, technology has come to the rescue. And that help goes beyond the language selector that lets you get subtitles and closed captions for the latest episodes of Better Call Saul or Game of Thrones.

Machine Translation Services by Virtual Assistants

Sorry to tell you, but no matter who you are and where you live, most people don’t speak your language. While English speakers may enjoy the luxury of being the most popular spoken language, and the lingua franca of the entertainment, financial and scientific worlds, it remains a minority tongue on a global scale. Some 1.2 billion people may speak some English, but more than 6 billion don’t. So how to connect with that silent-to-you majority?

Well, as with most things, there’s an app for that. For simple translations, you can turn to your device’s virtual assistant. If you have an iPhone or iPad, just tell Siri: “Translate to Spanish” and she will obey with an English to Spanish translation. Similar virtual assistant voice interpreters are also available via Android apps, such as Genie. Or, if you have Amazon’s virtual assistant, you can ask Alexa to translate as well.

Translation and Interpretation Services for Flowing Conversations

While virtual assistants are fine for one-off translations, you’ll prefer Google Translate or Microsoft Translator for flowing conversation with a foreign speaker. There are dozens of machine translation apps, but most of these are limited to text-to-text translation, which is fine if you are chatting with that exotic stranger you chatted up on Tinder, but not as helpful if you’re trying to understand a live video webinar in Swahili.

Is there an app that can listen and translate? Sure. The free translation apps from Google and Microsoft Translator support voice interpretation in dozens of language pairs. Once you get the hang of it you can have an uninterrupted conversation with a foreign speaker, both seeing the foreign words, both seeing and hearing the English translation. If you translate a foreign language video or webinar, the translation will stream to you continuously.

Over the Phone and Remote Video Interpretation Services in a Crisis

So far, we’ve been focusing on the educational, entertainment and social value of translation and interpretation apps, but these interpretation translation tools can save you in a crisis. When Brits David and Sally Abel tested positive for COVID-19 during the outbreak on the Diamond Princess cruise ship in February, their greatest initial anxiety was that they couldn’t understand the Japanese physicians treating them. They could have used an interpretation app. Unfortunately, senior citizens often are not comfortable with apps.

The same consideration holds true for healthcare providers and public officials who need to communicate to patients and populations which do not speak their language. In this case, personal apps don’t suffice. Professionals, therefore, are turning to over the phone interpretation, or video remote interpretation. These are turnkey systems in which a live human interpreter mediates linguistically between two parties without a common language. In the US, remote interpretation services are legal requirements that health care providers must offer at no charge. Medical translation companies also provide such linguistic bridges, partnering with translation agencies to provide the interpretation on demand.

The good old days will yet return when it will make sense to review the best translation apps for travellers, but for the near future let’s hope that the linguistic tools you use will be for entertainment and educational purposes, not medical emergencies. Keep safe and sound in whatever languages you speak!

About the Author

Share this article